Friday, January 13, 2006

Mysteries of getting high

Endless Conversation by Tony Evans

Tony Evans

By Tony Evans

Even as our community raises the methamphetamine alarm, a great deal of confusion persists about drug use in general. Young people in flight from uncomfortable emotions, or facing the challenges of adulthood—like serving in wars overseas, or joining a consumptive society which is apparently destroying the planet with gusto—seem to follow the motto, "Just Say Maybe," or "Why the Hell Not?" Whether kids are storming heaven or just plain bored, they still deserve some straight talk on drugs. The decision to take or not take is largely a spiritual one, causing us to reflect upon what it means to be human.

Drugs aren't all illegal, and they aren't all the same. It is true that meth in small doses is sold in pharmacies to treat chronic obesity, that cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca-Cola, and dental patients regularly get blasted into a wonderland of numbness by nitrous oxide while listening to I-pods. Psychedelics are considered by some to be a shortcut to God. Would we have Bob Marley without ganja, or war protests without hippies on LSD. And what about the growing number of school children and their parents who take "medications" for Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, shyness, distraction and other features of what were once considered personality? What's the difference between a drug and a medication?

Much drug use is culturally determined, and largely a matter of dosage. Coca leaves have been chewed by Andean Indians as a mild stimulant for centuries. When reduced into powder, it becomes a highly addictive substance that destroys lives. Hallucinogens like Peyote and Ayahuasca have been used by Native communities for centuries from the Amazon to the Great Plains in order to access visionary states of consciousness at the core of Native belief systems. But these plants were discovered by religious leaders after many years of cultural evolution, and used in the context of ceremonies that translated the experience in beneficial ways to the community. Tobacco and even chocolate also have their places in the history of mind-altering substances.

Many great artists and scientists have attributed their creations and discoveries to altered states; Francis Crick's double-helix model of DNA, Lewis Carrol's "Alice in Wonderland" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kublai Khan," as well as a lot of Beatles name just a few.

But should Aldous Huxley be remembered for using mescaline and quoting William Blake, or for writing "The Perennial Philosophy," a classic anthology of spiritual writings? Might Crick have also come upon the double-helix over a warm cup of tea? If nature only reveals herself through the scientific method, why do the latest theories of physics coincide with ideas formulated thousands of years ago by practitioners of yoga and other Eastern traditions? If drugs are interesting for any reason at all, it's for the focus they draw upon the potential of the human mind, of conscious awareness. And the most reliable way to become conscious is still to pick up a book and start reading. Why not expose one's self to the history of ideas rather than to the potential ravages of drug addiction? Recent neuroscience shows that dopamine receptors get fried during methamphetamine use. Other medications can help repair this gap over time.

Many of us pay a price for dodging uncomfortable emotions in life. Our town's most popular drug, alcohol, makes a fine social lubricant, but has also led many in this community into alcoholism and despair. There are genetic components to addiction. Fortunately, there is also a strong 12-step recovery community here that can welcome us back to sanity. Those already in trouble with drugs should know that treatment has its own rewards; spirituality and self-knowledge are the tools of recovery and the surest way to an authentic life.

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